Can Yogis Stop Their Heart?

Paramahamsa Sacchidananda, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0
Yogi Swami Sacchidananda, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Investigating whether yogis can voluntarily control heartbeat

This post explores heart-stopping claims of yogis, in three parts:

1) Experiments in India, lab tests with yogis

2) Heart-stopping claims of famous yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

3) How to “stop” heartbeat and pulse

“Prominent among the many claims of unusual bodily control that emanate from practitioners of Yoga is the ability to stop the heart and radial pulse”, says Wenger, Bagchi, and Anand in Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse1. During the author’s investigations in India they searched for persons who claimed to stop the heart or pulse. Assisted by many individuals including the Indian press, they found four people for their experiment.

Colored Heartbeats, Duane Schoon, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Colored Heartbeats, Duane Schoon, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart

Summary of article from Circulation: Journal of American Heart Association, Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse:

Equipment and Procedures

Briefly, lab equipment consisted of electroencephalograph (EEG) for recording respiration, skin temperature, electrical skin conductance, and finger blood volume changes. Procedures varied according to the cooperativeness of the subject and other circumstances.

Four claimed to stop or slow heart

The first two subjects claimed they could stop the heart. The second two claimed to slow heartbeat.

No. 1. Shri Sal Gram, at Yogashram, New Delhi, made four attempts at one session. Little change occurred; changes in heart rate were small. There was no indication of heart arrest. The subject refused further cooperation.

No. 2. Shri Ramananda Yogi, of Andhra, age 33, at All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, made seven attempts on two days, and additional experiments on a third day. His pulse, although very feeble, could be felt. No heart sounds could be heard but heartbeat was detected using EEG.

No. 3. Shri T. Krishnamacharya, of Madras, age 67, at Vivekananda College, Madras. In 1935 this subject had apparently demonstrated to a Dr. Brosse that he had stopped his heart. This time he would only agree to demonstrate the method he had employed, pranayama (yogic breathing), but with minimum apparatus attached. There was no absence of heart sounds but at one time the pulse was not detectable in either wrist.

Photo via Mayo Clinic, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Heart muscle, Mayo Clinic, Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

No. 4. Shri N. R. Upadhyaya, age 37, at Kaivalyadhamna, Lonavla. This subject did not claim to stop the heart, but only to slow it. The maneuver occurred in the reclining position. He was tested on three days. There was little change in magnitude of heartbeat but significant slowing of heart rate.

Methods to “control” heart

The method of “control” of heartbeat for the first three subjects involved holding the breath and considerable tensing of the muscles in the abdomen and thorax, variations of yogic exercises or pranayama.

The researchers concluded the veins that returned blood to the heart were restricted but that the heart was not stopped. While sounds from the heart and pulse were weakened or disappeared.

The fourth subject, with different intervening mechanisms of muscle control, did markedly slow his heart for a maximum of three seconds.

Conclusion of experiments

The researchers said it was obvious that the four subjects did not voluntarily control the heart muscle. The abdominal and thorax muscles were used to intervene and restrict blood flow to slow heart rate, or to weaken or eliminate sounds from the heart and pulse. Only one subject could be said to have markedly “stopped” or significantly slowed the heart for a few seconds.

Read the entire article Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse, Circulation: Journal of American Heart Association

Paramahansa Yogananda, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Paramahansa Yogananda, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Heart-stopping claims by famous yogi, Paramahansa Yogananda

In 1920 Paramahansa Yogananda arrived in the U.S. The famous yogi wrote his Autobiography of a Yogi (1946) and was the first Indian-guru to permanently make his home in the West.

Yogananda made many claims that yogis could and should stop heartbeat. Here are four claims made by the famous yogi:

“Yogis who know how to operate the switch of the heart, and to control their heartbeats, can quit the body quickly and at will; or stay in it as long as they wish…Only those who have practiced control of the heartbeat and who have learned to live without oxygen–by eating less carbonizing food and by preventing the decay of tissues in the body through definite yoga training in meditation–can consciously experience death at will.2

If one can learn to control the heartbeat, he can experience conscious death, as did St. Paul (“I die daily”–I Corinthians 15:31) and many yogis of India who have practiced this Hong-Sau [concentration] Technique, and through it achieved mastery over the action of the heart.3

Only advanced souls who can live without breathing or heartbeat are consciously aware of the true state of death (in which the breath and heartbeat also stop).4

Please practice these two states–of sensory-motor samadhi with heartbeat and sensory-motor relaxation samadhi without heartbeat–and you will know this universe as God’s cosmic cinema house”.5

How to “stop” heartbeat and pulse: secrets and illusions

Despite yoga-guru’s claims, yogis have failed to “stop” the heart in lab experiments for more than a few seconds.

The scientific evidence is slim to none that yogis can voluntarily stop their heart. We need more and better experiments to seriously entertain the heart-stopping claims.

In the meantime, maybe we can learn something from mentalists who “stop” heartbeat and pulse?

Stopping the Pulse secret revealed: Darren Brown

How to stop heartbeat and pulse trick: GeTrue

A man stops his heart: Guy Bavli

Late Late Show: Keith Barry makes his heart stop

Questions for readers: Do you know of comprehensive experiments of stopping the heartbeat? Can you cite any yogis who’ve claimed to stop the heart? Please cite sources in your comments.

Notes

1 Experiments in India on “Voluntary” Control of the Heart and Pulse, M.A.Wenger, Ph.D., B.K. Bagchi, Ph.D., and B.K. Anand, M.D., Circulation, Volume XXIV, December 1961

2 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 90, Overcoming Fear of Death

3 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 21, The Technique of Concentration

4 Self-Realization Fellowship Lesson 135, Disembodied Souls–Part 2, The Metaphysical Technique of Contacting Loved Ones

5 Letter from Paramahansa Yogananda to his disciple Rajarsi Janakananda (James J Lynn), written in Ranchi, India, 6 Aug, 1936. From Rajarsi Janakananda: A Great Western Yogi, Self-Realization Fellowship

27 comments

  1. Sabio Lantz

    I have many tricks I do to amaze people. It is startling how many folks really think I have magical Qi power.

    Concerning heartbeats. Even if a person (yogi or otherwise) could stop their heart — who cares?

    They use it as a sign that they have spiritual power — right !

  2. David R

    Sabio, can you do all those tricks that that Qi master video on Youtube? He sets fire to a piece of paper by holding his hand over it and there is no mistaking it or thinking it is combustible material concealed between his fingers. He also lights up a LED diode with a bulb which isn’t connected to any external electricity source, with his fingertip. Can you do that as a magic trick too? And how do you explain that?

    Sabio, have you read all the books about Paramahansa Yogananda that you are able to claim that a display of power, or a miracle, is illegitimate in the natural order of things, where you could disprove it? You seem to me as if you know too much.

    As far as caring about whether a person can stop their heart, this would be very good for lab science experiments of the power of Yoga, which would be valuable information with which to debunk doubting skeptics.

    Bagchi tested more Yogis in India than this article reveals. He also tested a Yogi buried underground for 2 weeks where the EGG registered no movement, and then came out of it with the EGG registering movement just before he came back from his Samadhi. There was another Indian guy that they tested that was able to considerably slow down his heart rate. Anybody, I would venture to guess, that monitors their heart beat inwardly, can make it slow down or speed up. This is not even controversial and shouldn’t be considered in any sceptical account.

    And all of that is not to mention that the FACTS of Sadhu Haridas were not mentioned by Scott. These are recorded facts, not fiction. The yogi was buried underground for 4 weeks, and people went into the grave tomb and saw him stitched up lying there in the linen, his body in a state of suspended animation. They actually checked if he was still in the ground 2 times, over the 4 weeks, and they saw his body in there. He came out and was considered dead, and shortly he came back to life. This is a documented fact, not a fiction, and there is no actual atheist or skeptic explanation for it.

    In the catholic Church, they have a tradition in the mystical literature about the graces that God gives for them, and one of them is called “raptus”. Raptus means the body is insensible to all pain, and the breathing is absent completely and it appears as though they have no pulse. This state can sometimes be seen in catatonic schizos.

    There are even testimonials from recent stories of people dying and coming back to life in morgues, graves and icy waters. They are brain dead apparently for many hours, and when they come back to life, they have no brain damage.

    Everything I have said can be checked out by research. I wouldn’t talk about anything I said unless I was sure I had read it somewhere and analysed it.

  3. The Radiating Yogini

    Reblogged this on THE RADIATING YOGINI and commented:

    This is pretty intense! But when you tap into your higher self you have so much control. I totally believe this could happen. Anyone has the ability I’m sure , you just need to be in that beautiful state to execute this. Very cool!
    Namaste

  4. Sabio Lantz

    @ David R

    Ah, so you believe those YouTube videos — sorry, I don’t know where to begin to address your beliefs.

    I have only read one of Yogananda’s books, and only one of many other cult leader books — too much to read out there, eh?

    David, you are apparently a true believer. Good for you.

    @ Scott
    The “Radiating Yogini” comment is obvious spam. How nauseating. Oh wait, maybe David R enjoys it. My bad.

  5. SkepticMeditations

    @David R: There’s little, if any substance, to the claims that yogis can “stop” the heart.

    Sabio says he has magical Qi power. Why should we believe him? Or, Paramahansa Yogananda’s claims? I know Sabio is being sarcastic, but Yogananda expected people to take his claims seriously and his gullible yoga disciples do. I was one once.

    I’d be glad to review citations of lab experiments or scientific studies if you care to provide them. Just telling me stories about yogis or saying you are sure you read it somewhere, would be a failure of critical thinking if I were to take you on your word.

    Thanks

  6. Nancy

    Hi to all,I have a question.
    I’m confused as “what happened”. After standing up to open my heart chakra I do a couple of different “opening” the chest anatomy (physical movement). I slowed my breath down and focused on my heart beat after that I felt vibrations/buzz.
    Then I felt as if I was floating, then I panic and fell to the floor. All awake, I was aware of everything that happened. I felt scared after words not knowing “what had just happened”.

    I will like if possible a word of “insight” just couriouse and maybe I’m not doing breathing slowing with heart beat focus.
    I was scared!

    Thanks, Happy Holidays!

  7. SkepticMeditations

    @Nancy:
    You wrote “After standing up”…felt like floating, confused, etc. Could be
    Orthostatic hypotension (postural hypotension)
    the most common symptom of orthostatic hypotension is feeling lightheaded or dizzy when you stand up after sitting or lying down.

    So-called chakras are imaginations or visualizations of tantric mythologies. In other words, BS.

    I strongly recommend that you consult with a healthcare professional if your problem or experience persists.

  8. Pingback: Exploring Meditation, Spirituality and Mindfulness: Satisfying the Curious – Angela G. Gentile, MSW, RSW
  9. SkepticMeditations

    Thanks, Sandehakari, for citing my blog and for your comment. I look forward to reading your blog.

    I recommend you add a way to follow your blog via email. I could only find a way to follow you via WordPress. There should be a widget that you can install to allow followers to enter an email address that will be notified when you post. I use one on my blog.

  10. Pingback: Nine days without oxygen or nine days without honesty? – Sandehakari
  11. SkepticMeditations

    @Ashish: I reviewed the article you linked to and didn’t find anything new which wasn’t already addressed in my blog post.

    Of the yogis who claim they can stop their heartbeat, few agree to be tested in a medical lab. The few tested under controlled lab conditions may be able to slow heart rate. There’s nothing extraordinary in slowing the heartbeat. Stopping the heart from beating is a mythic yogic claim that should be able to be tested and replicated in a lab.

    The few documented cases of yogis “stopping” heart beat are poor quality, are not taken seriously by established scientific community. Disciples of yoga believe whatever their guru tells them is reality.

    Cheers

  12. kiwichoco

    Hi all,
    I found this webpage by searching for the reason why I sometime can “stop” my heart.
    It’s a common funny thing I do to my girlfriends: I ask them to feel my heartbeat (e.g. in my neck) while we’re laying in a bed, quiet. Then I slow down my breath or hold it. It’s difficult to describe, but by reducing a bit the pressure in my lungs the heart then stops beating (or at least we can’t feel it anymore). Usually it’s one beat, but I used to be able to stop it few beats. I don’t “practice it” because I rather consider it as a heart disease of some sort and I’m a bit scared by it. But no doctor was able to detect any problem with my heart. The girlfriends are usually scared too.
    I don’t know if you have experienced similar things, or if you have any idea / solution.
    Cheers

  13. kiwichoco

    Sorry, I correct what I said: I can skip 1 to 3 beats *in a row*. Then something like 3 beats are normal, then I can skip the beats again.
    It creates a weird sensation in the body.

  14. Scott

    @kimichoco: I assume you are referring to some method of “stop” the detection of pulse or heart beat, though you don’t actually “stop” the heart. There are many methods, sometimes used as tricks, to supposedly “stop” heart. The videos at the end of this post are just a few. There’s no credible evidence, that I know of, that a person can willfully, temporarily “stop” one’s actual heart muscle from beating. I don’t how you are measuring your heart beats. I assume it’s not a medically or clinically reliable method. If you think you can indeed control and stop your heart beat, then please see a medical doctor and perhaps you can contribute to a medical breakthrough or get treatment that may save your life or heart health.

  15. pankaj

    Swami Rama successfully stopped heart caused to spin with his mind from a distance of five feet.
    you can contact Menninger Foundation, in Topeka, Kansas to know what he did or didn’t do.
    “The example below is an EKG of Swami Rama recorded while he was sitting motionless, and caused his heart to stop pumping blood at will. This was done by voluntarily speeding up his heart rate to over 300 beats per minute, causing atrial flutter. This demonstration and others were performed at the Menninger Foundation, in Topeka, Kansas in 1970. The research was recorded for the public, in part, in the book Beyond Biofeedback, by Elmer and Alyce Green.”

  16. Scott

    @pankaj: I’ve fully disclosed my background and aims are on my About page. I’m curious what your background and aims are with your comment.

    Are you a disciple of some yoga teachings/teacher? Are you convinced beyond any doubt that a human can fully stop his heart from functioning? Not slow heart rate, but stop fully? I doubt these claims, since I’ve learned to research better and ask questions that don’t point me in the direction of confirming what I want to believe or disbelieve.

    Here’s my reply to this book in your unimpressive citation:
    http://skepticmeditations.com/2015/05/17/can-yogis-stop-their-heart/#comment-1467

  17. Scott

    @Vitor: Would you kindly provide your commentary, opinions, or beliefs of the case? That is, if you wish for us to take you seriously and engage with your claims or those made in your case.

    I’ve researched numerous cases of yogi’s who supposedly “stop” their heartbeat and find the cases not credible or well-documented, written by gullible devotees of yogis. Neither do the yogis ever actually “stop” their heart. It merely slows down heartbeats.

    Look carefully and scrutinize these cases. They provide little credible, independently corroborated evidence.

    I googled the Yogi in the case and search results came up with mostly articles written by devotee-disciples of yogis. One article I found was written by an Indian skeptic who questioned the yogi’s incredible claims: http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/is_v01/1-1-2.

  18. Vitor

    Dear Scott,
    the correct link is http://www.indian-skeptic.org/html/is_v01/1-1-2.htm. Thank you for this. The “Indian Skeptic” did not mention the 1973 experiment, only two experiments, one in 1977 and one in 1981. About the possibility that the the swami was meddling with the instruments, the scientists who did the experiment in 1973 tried the best they could to replicate the effect by normal means, with no success. By the way, Guy Bavli’video is clearly fake. ECG monitors are very sensitive to movement, which is why the patient has to be completely immobile during the examination, otherwise the artifacts completely disrupt the tracing. It is also noted that the heart rate observed through the sinus is at a higher frequency than the ECG. In short the trick is very simple, a pre-programmed ECG monitor to simulate asystole, two actresses as stage assistants and a staging of a cardiac arrest. So, apparently neither magicians can replicate the effect.

    If you want to debunk the case, you just need to replicate the effect by normal means. That is something that I would like to see.

    Best wishes.

  19. Scott

    Vitor: I’m not convinced. Your case debunks itself. If its not replicatible under controlled conditions is likely proof against your claim.

    The Burden of proof (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KayBys8gaJY) is on the person trying to make a factual claim.

    The only proof you have demonstrated is that gullible yogi-guru disciples will fall for outlandish claims as long as it fits their wishful thinking or holy books.

  20. Vitor

    In order for an effect claimed by one investigator to be confirmed by another, naturally someone must be willing to replicate in the first place. The Yogi, so it seems, always agreed to be tested. If there were no more replications when he was alive, it was not his fault.

    If your explanation is that the swami was meddling with the instruments – something that the scientists in 1973 tried very hard to simulate with no success – you need to proof your claim. The ‘scientist,’ who is confident of ‘fraud’ here, must remember that in science as much as in common life an hypothesis must receive some positive specification and determination before it can be profitably discussed; and a fraud which is no assigned kind of fraud, but simply ‘fraud’ at large, fraud in abstracto, can hardly be regarded as a specially
    scientific explanation of specific concrete facts.

  21. Scott

    @Vitor: You say, ‘you can’t prove the swami yogi did not stop his heart from beating’. Therefore, yogi swamis must have stopped his heart’. Are you the same Vitor that writes articles trying to prove reincarnation?

    Your proselytizing for the miracles of swamis and yogis is not interesting to us here.

    This website is for mature people who are able to question, critically, the childish miracle claims of yogis and their gullible disciples.

    What’s next after stopping heart beat? The swami walks on water and through walls? Lives forever without breathing? Takes over other bodies?

    Looks like this website is not for you. And your comments are not for us.

  22. Vitor

    Scientific advancement begins with an observation which cannot be explained by existing schemata. Unexplained events are regularly reported in the medical literature, and are a valuable substrate for research. Our colleagues’ reports deserve attention, not a Procrustean fit into current paradigms. The scientists in 1973 suggested that the yogi hibernated. According to an article published in Scientific American on April 25, 2014, this is perfectly possible.

    https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/guest-blog/can-humans-hibernate-ask-the-dwarf-lemur/

    “After a teenage stowaway flew from California to Hawaii hidden in the wheel well of an airplane this week, investigators immediately began to wonder how he had survived the freezing temperatures and low-oxygen conditions of the unpressurized compartment.
    The latest theory is that he fell into a state of hibernation – an entirely plausible scenario, if you ask me.
    [..]
    Hibernating animals look dead. Almost.
    The heart rate of an active dwarf lemur is around 180 beats per minute, but during hibernation it can drop to as low as four beats per minute. Body temperature, which usually hovers around 36 degrees Celsius, can plunge to almost freezing at a frigid 5 degrees C. And I’ve recently witnessed a hibernating dwarf lemur go 21 minutes without taking a breath. […] This gloriously weird physiology is displayed in an animal that shares about 97 percent of our genome. But here’s punch line #1: As the Hawaii stowaway demonstrated, humans might already have the mechanisms that confer the ability to hibernate present in our genome.”

    What you call “mature people” is the kind of people who do more harm to Science than good. The danger of gullibility (even among scientists, not just lay people) through accepting bogus revolutions is vastly outweighed by the danger of novel ideas being ignored by skeptics. More damage was done by those who were “skeptical” of Semmelweiss’s or Pasteur’s germ theory of disease than by those who believed in spoon bending. It is better to have nine of your ideas be completely disproved, and the tenth one spark off a revolution than to have all ten be correct but unimportant discoveries that satisfy the skeptics.

  23. Scott

    @Vitor: I don’t disagree with you in principle with your statement “Scientific advancement begins with an observation which cannot be explained by existing schemata. Unexplained events are regularly reported in the medical literature, and are a valuable substrate for research. Our colleagues’ reports deserve attention, not a Procrustean fit into current paradigms.” But because there’s no answer or explanation, what you seem to be saying is that you “know” what the answer is. That’s fine. You’ve neither demonstrated nor convinced me, nor few but those who have faith in supernatural phenomenon.

    Fine, investigators investigate. Get back to me when there’s some convincing evidence, study replication, and independent verification of studies.

    I googled your name and will ask you one final time. Makes it nearly impossible to take you seriously when you hide, or don’t fully disclose who or what your interests in these matters are. I’ve disclosed mine on this site.

    Are you the Vitor who published or contributed to works such as–
    Spiritism Demystifying the lies told about Spiritism,
    https://espiritismoracional.wordpress.com/tag/vitor-moura-visoni/

    How To Improve the Study and Documentation
    of Cases of the Reincarnation Type? The Society for Scientific Exploration, Vitor mention at Peer-reviewed research on consciousness, physics,
    alternative energy, healing, and more.

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